I’ve been on Facebook for years, but never really understood the point of Twitter. The social media platform seemed to me like a chaotic crowd of people shouting short sentences at each other. A couple of years into writing my book and listening to writerly podcasts advising on the importance of an ‘author platform’ I decided I needed to do something about it, and in January 2018 I set up this website and joined Twitter.
As I began to understand how Twitter worked, I began to find value in it because there are a lot of writers and other creatives on the platform. Australian writers (#Auswrites) connect up and play writing prompt games, ‘meet’ in a 6am writers group, share successes and disappointments, favourite books and authors. Some even meet up in real life for coffee/brunch occasionally. A global writers group (#writerscommunity) provides similar connections across the world. #PitMad is a regular pitch party where writers can tweet a 280-character pitch for their unpublished manuscripts and agents and editors make requests by liking or favoriting the tweeted pitch. And the list goes on…twitter writers are a friendly, engaging and welcoming bunch.
Twitter is also a place for writers to do good for the community. In early January a small group of YA and Children’s authors got together and organised #AuthorsForFireys, a twitter auction designed to channel funds to firefighters and agencies providing relief for those impacted by the Australian bushfires. Over 500 creatives participated in Authors For Fireys, a week long auction of signed books, illustrations, unique experiences, one-off opportunities and writers’ services. Authors from publishing houses like Penguin Random House, Allen and Unwin, and Harper Collins got in on the act. You could bid to have Clementine Ford cook you dinner, to sip champagne with Annabelle Crab and Leigh Sales after Chat10Looks3, get your hands on a leather bound edition of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild or offerings from a diversity of people from Nick Cave to Kevin Rudd to Christos Tsiolkas, who isn’t even on Twitter. My personal favourite was the $5,000 bid by Trades Hall for a personalised poem by Maxine Beneba Clarke – no pressure there!
I bid on a number of items and was lucky enough to end up with a manuscript assessment from Dan Hanks, a professional editor in the UK. All donations went to fire services or disaster recovery appeals across the country and as of yesterday the initiative had raised AUD225k and counting, and lifted the spirits of all those who participated.
I trust everyone is having a pleasant festive season. The timing of Christmas in the middle of the week seems to have thrown significant confusion my way. For some reason I didn’t realise it was Friday yesterday and forgot to do all the things I might usually do on a Friday, including posting a blog post, so apologies for being a day late. Last week marked a milestone for this blog – my 100th post, so it would be remiss of me to fail to post this week. Better late than never…
This morning I did research and preparation for querying my manuscript as I want to be prepared to get started once all the beta reader feedback is in and incorporated. The querying process will involve a bit of administration and organisation, so I set up a spreadsheet to help me, and who doesn’t love a spreadsheet I hear you ask…? Said spreadsheet has three tabs – one for literary agents, one for publishers and one for manuscripts writing prizes – all avenues that could lead to publishing.
Having ummed and ahhed about the agented or not agented approach to publishing, I have decided that I will start with querying some agents. The decision to try agents first was driven in part by the fact that I work almost full-time and want to use my meagre spare time for writing, rather than focussing on the business end of publishing. In addition there are obvious benefits in having someone who really knows the industry going in to bat for you and taking care of contracts and guiding you through the process.
I reaseached agents, publishers and competitions and picked about ten of each to start with. My spreadsheet is a place to keep a summary of them – names, websites, submission requirements, when they are open for submission, what their estimated turn around times are, whether they accept submissions in my genre, and if they have other authors or novels that are comparable to mine.
My go to places for this exercise, and to find information about publishing have been:
Once my spreadsheet was set up I identified two agents who will be open to queries in late January and prepared submission packages, taking care to ensure what I send covers all their submission requirements. I now have a good start to a plan of attack to give myself the best chance of getting my manuscript published in 2020. I’m expecting a lot of this process to be a waiting game, so I will also keep working on my next manuscript, the second in the series. The added benefit of starting another novel is that if I get any nibbles with my querying and am asked if I am working on anything else, I can hand on heart say yes.
I started writing my manuscript in early 2016 after enrolling in an online novel writing course with The Writers Studio. The last three years have been spent learning about fiction as I wrote and rewrote my story. Much of the work was put down in the same circumstances I am writing this blog post – on my iPad, on a Ventura bus trundling it’s way between Warrandyte and Docklands – thirty kilometres, one and a half hours, twice a day, every work day. The chore of the public transport commute transformed into an opportunity to steal some creative time, and to pass the time, and what an amazing journey it has been.
Writing is a significant part of my work life, but it’s business writing – briefs, corporate documents, media releases, and research papers. Creative writing is a different beast. There is a lot more to writing fiction than you might imagine before you start. You need to learn the craft; to harness and shape your imagination into characters, scenes, and dialogue; to develop a plot that has meaning and structure; and find a unique voice. It takes practice, persistence and a willingness to turn up at the page day after day, including when you don’t feel inspired to put down words – to keep spilling them out, even when you think they are crap – to develop a writing habit. It’s hard to say exactly how many words I have written in the process of developing this manuscript, but I’d hazard a guess it’s in the vicinity of 200,000, most of them typed in transit or snatches of time.
To build my knowledge and skills I also devoured many podcasts on writing, completed a couple of short courses through The Australian Writers Centre, read books on the craft and devoured a broad range of fiction and non-fiction books to see what I could learn from the published works of others.
In January 2018 I started this blog because I was in a fortunate position to be able to take a year off work, primarily to focus on my writing, and wanted to make a record of my journey. Since then I have blogged almost 70,000 words, completed my year off, and am back in the fray of the commuter class.
A couple of weeks ago, I printed my manuscript and gave it to my first reader, incorporated some changes based on their feedback and have now sent it out to beta readers. It’s a funny mix of emotions sending your work out into the world, even if only to a limited few – there is both apprehension and expectation. You hope that readers will be engaged by, and enjoy the tale, and that they will be brave enough to provide honest feedback that will contribute to improving the work. There is also a niggling worry that you could have completely deluded yourself and spent years writing something that no one will understand or enjoy. Then whilst the work is visiting others, all you can do is wait. I have come to believe that patience is one of the key attributes for being a writer of any, but particularly, long form fiction.
When you have filled every spare moment with a project for many years, the sudden hiatus when you stop requires some adjustment. I thought it would be great to take a break – read some books and get onto some non-writing projects, like that garden paving I keep putting off. Curiously developing a writing habit has the hallmarks of most other habits, like exercise, where suddenly stopping leaves one with an uncomfortable, agitated residue. So last night I set up a scrivener file to start my next manuscript and I’m already getting a sense of what the plot line will be (rubs hands together).
Scrivener is a writing software tool designed to support long-form writing, developed by software company Literature&Latte. Scrivener provides a single container to store all your your research (including a neat function to upload documents or webpages), and to organise large documents, notes and references in a single carrier. The program uses the metaphor of a ring binder that allows you to break manuscripts down to chapters and scenes that can be re-arranged with ease.
There are several documents templates to choose from, including for longform fiction, non-fiction and screenwriting. The program also has functionality to create your own templates. Custom icons and color coding features help arrange folders for easy recognition and compartmentalise different elements of your manuscript.
The program provides many ways to view a project – an obsessive organisers dream. The ‘corkboard’ acts like index cards attached to every section of a project. You can shuffle index cards as you plan and plot, its a handy feature for a structural edit. The inspector is a place to plan, create synopsis or notes, references, keywords, metadata or snapshots. An outliner allows you to work with an overview of a chapter and the folder and subfolder structure. You can also view the same or two documents side by side.
Scrivener has some neat features to motivate your writing too. You can set targets by word count, date or time and once you’re finished you can compile and download the whole manuscript into a number of formats. I found the target setter useful at a point in my earlier drafts when I wanted to write one thousand words a day, the ping when you hit your word count is most satisfying.
The program has desktop and iOS versions, so if you save to the cloud you can sync your work and take it anywhere – but you need to make sure you don’t have both open at once as you can end up with annoying syncing problems. I particularly love the cross platform options as I do a lot of writing on my iPad during the week when I am mobile, such as on public transport, and then work on my laptop at home.
The software company provides excellent guidance and help in the form of videos, user manuals, forums, a blog, faqs and product support. This is particularly important as the product has loads of features that require some time and effort to learn in order to get the best from the product. Scrivener has a free thirty day trial and at the time of writing cost AUD$77 for macOS and AUD$20 for iOS for iPad. I’m a convert.
Hemingway is a neat little tool that is free to use online. You can also download a desktop app for AUD$20 making it more affordable than Grammarly or ProWritingAid, with many of the same features. When you paste text into the tool it helps make your writing clear by checking grammar and highlighting areas for improvement using a color code system:
Adverbs highlighted blue
Passive voice highlight green
Phrases with simpler alternatives highlight purple
Hard to read sentences highlight yellow
Sentences very hard to read highlight red
The app also delivers readability, word count and read time statistics and has a capacity for large quantities of text – I have loaded a 90,000 word manuscript and analysed it without any issues. Once complete you can export and save your edits. I have found Hemingway a handy tool.
After the Deadline is a free online spelling, style and grammar check. It’s an open source software available for French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish and can be used by developers to add to web applications. For general use, paste text in, select check writing and the program uses color coding to underline parts of the text it thinks you need to check, by selecting the highlights the product offers alternative suggestions. It’s main downfalls for me are it uses American English, it struggles a bit with large quantities of text and you have to copy and paste your corrections when done as you cannot download them.
Expresso is a free online tool to analyse, edit and compare text styles in English for blocks of up to 5,000 words. The tools metrics include synonyms, weak verbs, filler words, normalisations, substitutions, negations, cluster sounds, long bound phrases, passive voice, modals, rare words, sentences that are too long or too short, fragments, and frequent word statistics, as well as general text metrics. When you select one of the metrics, the program highlights those sections in the text and suggests alternatives.
Autocrit is the rolls royce of cloud based writing software for fiction writers designed to help identify all those little problems that will jar readers out of your story. At the heart of AutoCrit lies its unique ability to directly compare your writing with the proven standards of successful, published fiction. The AutoCrit system is built using data from thousands of successful books, all fed in and averaged to provide a benchmark for manuscripts across multiple key areas. Once you load your work, you can pick the genre to run reports against.
The editor runs the summary report using your selected genre for comparison. The summary provides writing statistics and feedback on pacing and momentum, dialogue, word choice, repetition and strong writing.From the summary report you can run more detailed reports to review each element covered.
I discovered this tool when I was about to give my manuscript to some beta readers. After taking out a trial and playing with the product, I delayed the beta reader process. I removed about 1,500 redundant and overused words, which tightened my manuscript significantly. I also made good use of the showing vs telling feature.
For each report there are options for summaries and detailed analysis, and the product highlights the areas recommended for review in your manuscript. There is a handy feature to analyse manuscripts by chapter, though large pieces do slow the software down a bit which can be frustrating.
Autocrit was a little overwhelming initially, but the more I use it, the easier it is and there are a range of help tools, including videos, a blog, articles, and a YouTube channel which is worth taking a look at.
The downsides of Autocrit are that there is no integration with other software services, you can’t work offline and the subscription is quite expensive. I took out a two week trial for AUD$1, then extended by another a month for $AUD30. After giving the product a good run I was a convert and so took advantage of a lifetime subscription offer for $AUD197.
What would you call a large group of crime writers?…a band of bards; a gang of thieves; a law suit; a table of trouble; an anthology? I’m not sure, but they were certainly learned owls at the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival.
I boarded the Terror jet on Thursday and headed south for some serious sleuthing. Tasmania is the perfect spot for a dark crime and Cygnet put on a feast, there were bodies everywhere…mwahahaha.
Tiny Hobart, the artsy capital of the isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, has murderous intent lapping at its doors, and who knows what those creative types might get up to? Hobart is sandwiched between the wilderness to the west and the southern ocean – nothing much between it and Antarctica except whales and spooky stories.
I am fortunate to have friends who live in Battery Point, Hobart who let me set up base at theirs, which by the way has fabulous views over Sandy Bay AND Mount Wellington, so if you’re looking for a great Airbnb with fabulous hosts, check out Katrina and Susan’s Hobart Loft.
By coincidence, on my first night in Hobart, Katrina was taking part in an old-fashioned murder mystery radio play, Battery at Battery Point, performed at the Battery Point Community Hall. It was a hoot and a terrific event to kick of my crime weekend, not to mention the mouth watering Thai beef salad and delicious Tasmanian wine my friends provided.
On Friday we all piled into the car and headed to Cygnet (Port of Swans), a tiny town in the Huon Valley south of Hobart with less than 2000 inhabitants. It’s a magnate for creative types and has an oversupply of gourmet food for its size. Cygnet punches above its weight and was a perfect location for Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival, Australia’s newest crime writing festival.
My first stop was a MasterClass with Angela Savage, award winning author and director of Writers Victoria. She wore a themed black dress with white swans printed on it – for swanning around at festivals she said. If you ever get an opportunity, pop along to one of Angela’s sessions because she’s an excellent presenter who delivers engaging and thoughtful sessions with practical advice and useful exercises to develop your own writing.
I also attended a MasterClass with historical crime writer Meg Keneally, coauthor of the Monsarrat series with her father, and author of Fled. Meg provided some great advice on research, use of language for historical fiction, character development and choosing your weapon, or poison to bump someone off. The criminal mood of the session was enhanced by an impressive thunderstorm which probably left Meg horse after trying to make sure we could hear her over the noise.
Cygnet folk like to dress up and Friday night was Noir at the Bar 1920’s style. Local gourmet providore’s provided delicious offerings with local beverages for accompaniment, and it was a cracking night. I presented a spoken word piece to the crowd and was pretty chuffed to be able to deliver Feet of Clay freestyle for only the second time I’ve performed it.
Saturday and Sunday were two days packed with the queens and (some) princes of crime led by international guest and author of the Inspector Singh Investigates series, the hilarious and fascinating Singapore based Shamini Flint; Canadian-Australian and vintage dress aficionado, author Tara Moss; and actress Marta Dusseldorp (aka Janet King Crown Prosecutor from the ABC drama). They were accompanied by a plethora of impressive Australian crime writers. The author panellists hosted two days of intriguing discussion on a range of topics, shadowed by the PEN empty chair to symbolise writers who could not be present because they are imprisoned, detained, disappeared, threatened or killed.
Below are some snippets from the panels to give you a flavour of the discussions:
You can fix rubbish and you can delete rubbish, but you can’t do anything with a blank page.
Sherlock Holmes – a supercomputer hooked up to a dot matrix printer…lacking the interface
Recorrections’ of gender stereotypes can be as damning as the tropes they ostensibly challenge, e.g. damsel in distress becomes gun-toting fighter
Fictional crime is often a vehicle to discuss contemporary societal issues, it’s not about the actual crime in the way true crime is
I’ve never had a thought that didn’t end up in a book
Jack Heath asks his Facebook friends for advice on how to poison people but still ensure the body is perfectly safe to eat
So little diversity in crime writers they can be counted on one hand
I don’t believe in writing carefully. I do believe in writing thoughtfully – show your work to a range of readers as part of the writing process
The Bechdel Test — the measure of women’s representation in fiction
Why is it so hard to get men to view films/TV and/or read books with female protagonists? Jack Heath was inspired to write because genres for young male readers were all cars, sport and farting.
Some of the other highlights for me included:
Mantra Dusseldorp reading from LJM Owen’s The Great Divide – gave whole new meaning to bringing story to life – gave me chills.
A discussion about whether Sherlock and Miss Marple would get along
The homage to the Golden Age dames of crime…Dorothy Sayers, Dame Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Patricia Wentworth, Helen de Guerry Simpson, Baroness Emma Orczy, Ethel Lina White,Josephine Tey, Agatha Christie.
All the panels with Shamini Flint because she’s very funny
The final session Whiskey and Words – First Dog on the Moon launching Angela Meyer’s novel Superior Spectre over a whiskey tasting
LJM Owen was the powerhouse behind the festivals birth and she and the team of organisers and volunteers did a fantastic job. The event was professionally organised and had great content. Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festivalis mooted to be a biennial event – I highly recommend you keep your calendar free and go along in 2021.
It the second Australian Writers Centre course I have completed this year. I signed up for Pitch your novel: how to attract agents and publishers as I thought it would be a good companion course to Inside Publishing which I reviewed in August, and I was right.
The online self-paced course was created by historical novel writer Natashia Lester and includes nine modules. As with Inside Publishing purchase of the course gives you twelve months access to it online, and allows you to download the resources. The course presents advice on strategy and practice tips to get yourself pitch ready.
Module one focuses on developing a writing CV which includes building an author platform, an overview of relevant writers societies, creating a pitch package and putting yourself out there to build a writing network.
In the second module Natashia provides advice on how to make your manuscript pitch ready including what professional services are available to provide assistance, and free sources you can tap into for help.
Module three focuses on literary agents – what value they add, why your should consider pitching to agents before publishers, how to identify agents to pitch to, developing a pitch and keeping track of your approaches to agents.
The fourth module focuses on the pitch itself. Natashia provides advice on developing three different types of synopsis and when to use them, including examples from her own work.
Module five covers preparing a pitch package. It explains what research you need to do to develop your pitch package, what to include in the package and in what order.
In modules six and seven you’ll find out about what to do when you get a response from an agent, other than get excited. These modules provide practical advice about how long the process might take and what to do if you receive feedback from an agent.
Module eight moves onto pitching directly to publishers including which publishers are out there, how to find them and decide whether you should pitch to them. Practical advice about submission guidelines, how to organise your material and decide in which order you should approach publishers.
Natashia explores other ways to get published in module nine, including entering competitions, how to find these opportunities, information about some of the main ones in Australia and things to consider when submitting to these programs and prizes.
The final module looks at what to do if you get an offer including some basic advice about contracts and when and how to get help (I recommend Inside Publishing for more detail on actual contracts), as well as dealing with rejection because we all know we’re going to get some of that.
After completing a couple of the Australian Writers Centre online course, I’m a convert. They are professionally constructed, practical and chock a block full of good advice and resources.
Main image: Everything You’ve Got, Epi Island, Vanuatu
If you’re not into horse racing, bypass Melbourne and head straight down to Hobart over the Halloween – Melbourne cup weekend. Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival (TAF2019) is a new biennial literary festival to be held at Cygnet in the beautiful Huon Valley 31 October – 5 November. I’ve been looking forward to it for months.
The festival celebrates the work of female crime writers with the theme “Murder She Wrote,” inspired by a visit to Tasmania by Agatha Christie. Christie was on a ten month tour of the British empire taking in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada in 1922. The correspondence of her travels was published in The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery. She was so enamoured by Tasmania apparently she said she’d like to live there one day. I’m with Agatha – Tasmania is one of my favourite places also.
“From Australia we went to Tasmania, driving from Launceston to Hobart. Incredibly beautiful Hobart, with its deep blue sea and harbour, and its flowers, trees and shrubs. I planned to come back and live there one day. From Hobart we went to New Zealand.”
– Agatha Christie
I heard someone comment at a writing event I attended a while ago that crime writers are the most fun, and looking at the TAF2019 program, I can see why. The festival kicks off on Thursday and Friday with two days of writing workshops and masterclasses, as well as pitch to the publisher sessions. I’ve booked in for two masterclasses on Friday – one run by Angela Savage and the other by Meg Keneally. I’ll also be performing a spoken word piece at Friday night’s Noir at the Bar – a night of speakeasy jazz, spoken word and cocktails hosted by Naomi Edwards with a 1920’s theme.
Saturday and Sunday hosts a cracker line up of panellists celebrating and exploring crime fiction. I’m looking forward to hearing what some of these folk have to say – Tara Moss, Angela Meyer, Jack Heath, Tansy Rayer Roberts, Meg Keneally, Margaret Keneally, Shamini Flint, Angela Savage,Lindy Cameron, Joanna Baker, Marta Dusseldorp, David Owen, Debi Marshall, Livia Day, Sulari Gentill, L.J.M Owen, and more.
The weekend will be broken up by a Murder Mystery immersive whodunit dinner party on Saturday night set on an archaeological site in 1920’s Cairo. The theme is Curse of the Sphinx in a nod to Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. Guests will inhabit a character and try to solve a murder over dinner before coffee is done. Apart from the writers panels and the dinner I’ll also be imbibing a literary whisky with First Dog on the Moon and Angela Meyer on Sunday afternoon while they chat about Angela’s 2018 debut novel, A Superior Spectre.
For those who haven’t had their fill on the weekend, its bookended by two days of food and wine inspired, mouth watering culinary events on Monday and Tuesday. As part of Trail of Writers Tears, you can eat and drink your way around the region, learn bookbinding, making Chinese dumplings, Italian food, or go and visit Fat Pig Farm for lunch.
For more information check out the TAF2019 website and listen to an interview with Festival Director, Dr L.J.M Owen with David Milne here. See you on the other side Bwa ha ha ha…
Images: ‘Prospero’s Island’ (2015-16) by Valerie Sparks. Commissioned by TMAG for Tempest
I was captured by the style and writing rhythm of two audio books I listened recently, even more so than their stories. Both The Twyborn Affair by Patrick White published in 1979, and My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey published in 2003 explore identity. In each the authors distinctive styles paint rich pictures of their characters and they were beautiful to listen to.
The Twyborn Affair is written in three parts. One set in a villa on the French Riviera pre-world war one, the second on a sheep station near the Snowy Mountains in the inter-war period, and the third in London just before the second world war. The title of the novel, also the core characters name, provides a clue to the novels story – Twyborn meaning twice-born, and Affair eluding to the characters various love affairs. The story charts the transmigration of a soul throughout three different identities – Eudoxia, Eddie and Eadith – a man bookended by two women. It explores transvestism, split personality and the loss of identity through death and re-birth. It places the anxiety and uncertainty of the human condition under a microscope, expunged of the dichotomy of gender.
It was still impossible for the watcher to decide whether the hair, illuminated by sudden slicks of light, was that of a folle Anglaise or pédéraste romantique, but in whatever form, the swimmer was making for the open sea, thrashing from side to side with strong, sure, professional strokes. It must be a man, Monsieur Pelletier decided, and yet there was a certain poetry of movement, a softness of light surrounding the swimmer, that seduced him into concluding it could only be a woman.
White’s writing style is dense, vivid and beautifully poetic to read. He applies a rhythmic lyricism and elaborate imagery drawing on myth, symbolism and allegory to explore ambiguity, identity, isolation and the search for meaning.
Yet whatever form she took, or whatever the illusion temporarily possessing her, the reality of love, which is the core of reality itself, had eluded her and perhaps always would.”
My Life as a Fake is set in 1972. An editor of an English poetry magazine goes on a junket to Kuala Lumpur and comes across a white man in a bicycle repair shop with ulcers on his legs. He is reading Rilke. The editor discovers that at the end of world war two this man was responsible for a great Australian literary hoax.
Remember, this is the country of the duck-billed platypus. When you are cut off from the rest of the world, things are bound to develop in interesting ways.
Carey toys with mythology in this novel inspired by a true story – the Ern Malley Affair. It explores identity, authenticity and the cultural anxieties of colonial societies. The Ern Malley Affair was a literary hoax involving the publication of poems dashed off as a joke to show that meaningless balony could get taken seriously by the avant-garde. The poems were subsequently published to great acclaim in the Autumn 1944 issue of Angry Penguins. The publication resulted in the humiliation and prosecution of Max Harris, the editor and a champion of modernist poetry, for publishing ‘indecent matter’. Carey draws on original source material but swaps out identities and names of the protagonists and adds in some wholly fictional characters.
I went to bed with the disconcerting knowledge that almost everything I had assumed about my life was incorrect, that I had been baptised in blood and raised on secrets and misconstructions which had, obviously, made me who I was.
Carey plays with Malaysian English slang and the work overflows with literary references including Frankenstein, Milton and WH Auden amongst others. There is a truly distinct use of narrative voice in My Life as a Fake from the crisp upper-class intellectual prose of Sarah, to Slater’s British bluff and effrontery, Chubbs defensive punctuated mash up of Australian and Malay, an aggressive Chinese-Malaysian woman with fractured English, and the elaborate deference of Mulaha. In the written text, one characters dialogue blends into another and folds into the narrative without the benefit of quotation marks.
He is right, he said quietly. The hoax misfired. I wished to make a point, but only to a few. Who cares about poetry? Fifty people in Australia? Ten with minds you might respect. Once Weiss had declared my fake was a work of genius, I wished those ten people to know. That was it, Mem. I never wanted the tabloids. Who would expect the Melbourne Argus would ever be interested in poetry. This was not their business, but what a caning-lah, what a public lashing poor old Weiss was given. I could never have foreseen that.
Both White and Carey have distinctive voices, original styles, and make great use of vocabulary and literary techniques, authors worth studying for any writer.
I have a couple of friends who host fabulous soirées. They are a raucous blend of performance, music and readings and loads of laughs and great conversation. Last weekends gathering was a salon for a bunch of literary and music types – a get together to learn from, and amuse one another. The theme was What floats your boat?
Over the course of the afternoon I learnt about beer brewing; about Arabic numbers and plural leaders; what reading meant to one woman; another’s passion for the tango; what it’s like to have spent thirty years advocating for piece workers; the experience of finding someone in China to teach you mandarin via Skype; the research involved in writing a historical novel; and was serenaded by a musician who had just handed in her music PhD. I read an excerpt from my work in progress mystery manuscript and was delighted with the reception. An afternoon of exploring what nurtures and fuels others passions was refreshing, and a lovely way to get to know people a bit.
The soirée got me thinking about gatherings in fiction. I do love an intimate gathering, but must confess the bigger the bash, and the less people I know, the less appealing they become – it’s the introverts dilemma. Jay Gatsby’s elaborate and decadent soirées in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald come immediately to mind.
And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.
The quote is from the aloof dishonest socialite Jordan Baker. It’s short, but says a lot about the character. At a big party she can control who she speaks to and blend in. At smaller gatherings she has less control, could be forced to speak to people she doesn’t want to and exposed for the liar she is.
Other memorable fiction parties include the Mad Hatters tea party in Alice in Wonderland, and the illicit shindig at the psychiatric institution in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest when McMurphy smuggled wine and women into the asylum after dark so the inmates could have a good time.
Parties, soirées, crowds and gatherings are a great vehicle for conflict in fiction. We can showcase our characters personality by how they respond to a crowd. Gatherings can heighten emotions, raise the stakes, be exciting and fun or provocative and anxiety generating. What if our protagonist meets someone they dread?
We can fill a party with movement, color, action, uncertainty, intrigue, or deception. Our protagonist may feel welcome or isolated. They can experience the unusual, unexpected or surreal. Venue, decorations and people’s clothes provide setting; snippets of conversation and the people our protagonist seeks out, or avoids tells the story. All fodder for character and plot development, not to mention humour. A party has its own arc – a story within a story. It includes getting ready for the party, arrival, the event, departure and reflections the following day. How might a character respond to each element? How do you think Ray might respond to this comment in Jason Medina’s A Ghost In New Orleans? What will his response tell us about him…
So, Ray… you seem like a cool cat,” she said. “Are you into alternative lifestyle parties?
My current work in progress contains a soirée, a protest and a conference. Each presented a chance to reveal character, advance plot and apply pressure to my protagonist. When my protagonist arrives at the soirée the greeting she receives is less than ideal…
Within a minute it swung open. Freya looked up at Jude’s face then swept her gaze downward. Then up again with a skeptical expression that made Jude want to pull away. No sign of the welcome friendliness of their first encounter.
The party starts with conflict that unbalances my protagonist. Of course a lot can happen in a few hours in a crowd, and the morning after the soirée my protagonist had a lot to think about…
On her way to consciousness, images of exotic creatures from the night before danced vivid behind Jude’s closed eyes. She tried to push thoughts of the investigation to the dark recesses and enjoy her fantasy.
There are a lot of questions to be asked about our protagonists if we plan to send them to gatherings. How would you show the answer to the following questions when writing your crowd/party scenes?
Does the protagonist want to go? Why? Are they excited or apprehensive?
Do they worry about their appearance?
How well do they know other people there?
What type of crowd is it – a party, a protest, an event, a shopping centre, a horse or car race, a church service, a funeral or a carnival? Each evokes a different feeling
Are they the centre of attention or an outsider? An extrovert or a wallflower?
Who does your character meet? What are they wearing, eating, drinking?
What does your protagonist discover directly, or indirectly?
Are there people there they want to avoid or who want to avoid them?
What does your protagonist see, hear, smell, taste?
The novel Chocolat by Joanne Harris opens when the protagonist arrives on the square of a tiny French village on shrove Tuesday as the villagers clear away the remains of the carnival to herald the beginning of Lent. Harris evokes the scene beautifully, capturing the season, smells, sounds and atmosphere.
We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausage and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hotplate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters.
Do you take your characters out into groups or crowds of people? How do they handle it?
I have written a few posts about editing. The last one was titled Editing Hell. The name of the post reminds me of how frustrated I must have been feeling at the time. It also made me notice how time and experience change us. The other day I told someone I loved editing. I have observed this change at work as well. My job involves quite a bit of revising others work and I used to hate it – thought it tedious. I am not sure exactly when it happened, but of late I have felt a growing sense of joy in the process of revising and editing. Yes you did read that right, joy. I must be a geek right?
I have come to appreciate that as writers, we want to produce work that people love, or hate for the right reasons – like because it touches a nerve the reader has been avoiding. We want readers to immerse themselves in our stories, and if we’re lucky be transformed by them in some small way. But raw imagination is messy. To turn a piece of writing into something beautiful to read takes a lot of work. The desire for our work to tell a good story and to be beautiful can blind us to the purpose of editing – which is to find fault and identify what needs to be changed. I have come to understand that the work of writing a novel, is much more about the editing process than inventing the raw story, so learning to love it matters if we are to achieve our goals.
“The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.” – Michael Lee
The more I edit, the more respect I have for those who work as editors. They must find and iron out the faults in order to polish a writers work so that it really sings like a finely tuned instrument, yet balance that imperative with the limits to which they can push a writers ego. No wasted words, no words out of place. And anyone who has had to provide ‘constructive feedback’ knows how hard a line that can be to walk when your hope is to get the best outcome. For many writers their work makes them vulnerable and can be a vehicle for their hopes. Push too far and the feedback can be lost in the others woundedness. Don’t push enough and the work may never meet the authors expectations once out in the world.
“Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.” ― William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
In the moments I feel like I am getting sick of editing I remind myself why I’m doing it. I want to make the work as polished as I can – before one of my beta readers, or an actual professional editor reads it. Because then I will get the best out of the collaborative editing process.